It is only day seven of NaNoWriMo and there is a giant wall looming in front of me.
No, not that one, thank goodness, although it’s a good reminder to go vote tomorrow.
I mean the writer’s block wall. I’m having one of those mornings where I write for ten minutes, check my word count, type another sentence, check my word count again, type a few words, update my blog, type one more, check twitter. You get the idea. It’s not going so well. And I already feel like I’m cheating, too, because I have three different books going at the same time (It’s a trilogy! Maybe. If I ever finish.) It should be so much easier with all these story lines. If one gets stale, I can just switch to another story, right? Nope. They are all moving along as fast as molasses in January.
One strategy I’ve found that can help when I get stuck is to think about important moments in my life. I take some quiet time and try to remember the thoughts and feelings I had in those moments, and see whether they can inspire a new scene or improve one that I have already written. Sometimes this is really fun. Reminiscing about what it was like to fall in love for the first time, or how exhilarating it was the first time I got to run wild with friends without any adults reminding us to be safe, or when I found a group of friends that felt like they had been handpicked to complete my life- these memories are wonderful to relive. But sometimes the memories that have the most impact on a scene are the hard ones. The times where life was daunting, scary, or uncertain.
Warning: anxiety trigger for parents coming right up.
Yesterday I wrote a scene inspired by my worst parenting moment.
My blood still runs cold every time I think of it. It was this past summer and I was at the local water park with some friends and all of our collective children. My kids were finally old enough that they weren’t falling face first in the water every five minutes. Hooray! They could both sit and stand in the baby pool and they knew not to jump in the big pool. I was still nervous, though. That morning I told one friend that I HATED taking the kids there, and I only ever went because it made them so happy. I spent every visit on high alert, terrified that one of them would go under.
So of course, one of them did. I was sitting on the side of the baby pool and turned away for just a moment. I looked back at my 3yr old and she was under the water, on her back, eyes wide with terror as she realized that she didn’t know how to stand back up. I flew the few feet to her. FLEW. She was probably only under for a few seconds, but I didn’t *see* the second that she went under so I didn’t know how long she had been submerged. Pure terror. Complete and absolute terror. I hauled her out of the water and to my indescribable relief she began to scream instantly. She had held her breath. She hadn’t swallowed or inhaled a drop. I rocked her and cried. My friends huddled around and cried. When my daughter stopped crying, she told us that she was just trying to “float,” like the big kids. Then she said, “I think I should stop swimming now because I made all the mommies cry.
She sure did. All the mommies cried. We left to go home soon after but I got text messages all day from friends making sure that my girl was still physically ok, and that I was emotionally recovering. I still cry when I think about it. That second of horror stripped about ten years off of my life and made me even more determined to be that much more careful around water. Oh, and I’m spending our entire budget on swim lessons before next summer rolls around.
People say that writing is good therapy, so I took that awful experience and worked it into a scene yesterday. It was almost as painful to force my character through it as it was to go through it myself. I’m still undecided if it was therapeutic for me or not. But either way, the experience became one more piece in my story.
Our best memories and worst memories are powerful. They leave an impression. If we write well enough, we can translate those memories into scenes that are compelling for readers.
Do you have strong memories, good or bad, that you use in your writing?